The Supreme Court has declined to review a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision that struck down an Illinois law prohibiting audio recordings without permission, echoing last year’s First Court decision that you can record police on the job. Let’s remember it’s not just police:
“Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.’”
That means all elected or appointed or employed government officials, from County Commissioners and City Councils down through sheriff and police departments to the Animal Shelter. Police are employees, not elected or appointed, so these rulings would appear to apply to other governmental employees.
Radley Balko wrote for Huffpo 27 November 2012, Supreme Court Inaction Boosts Right To Record Police Officers,
Moore had come to the station to report an alleged sexual assault by a Chicago cop, and says she became frustrated when internal affairs officers allegedly bullied her and attempted to talk her out of filing the report. Moore was eventually acquitted.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is planning a police accountability project in Chicago that will involve recording police while they’re on duty. The organization wanted to be sure its employees and volunteers wouldn’t be charged with felonies.
The 7th Circuit Court found a specific First Amendment right to record police officers. It’s the second federal appeals court to strike down a conviction for recording police. In August 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled that a man wrongly arrested for recording cops could sue the arresting officers for violating his First Amendment rights.
Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez
That decision also found a broad First Amendment right to record on-duty government officials in public: “Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting ‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.'” And in fact, in that it strips police who make such arrests of their immunity from lawsuits, it’s an even stronger opinion. Of course, the police themselves rarely pay damages in such suits — taxpayers do….
And don’t we have better uses for our local taxes than defending them from such lawsuits? Since our local officials no doubt have nothing to hide, we can hope such lawsuits never occur here, because local officials will not try to stop citizens from recording them on audio or video. Also note these Circuit Court rulings go beyond the Georgia Open Meetings Law; citizens’ First Amendment right to record government officials appears to extend to anywhere and any time officials are doing their duty.